Thinking About The “New Atheists”

Engaging The Belief Police

[This is a re-post from several years ago that I think is still completely relevant today]

Two books on the NY Times Best Seller list share a common thesis — that religion in general, and Christianity specifically, is not just wrong, or off-base, or a subject worth debating — but that it is evil, deluded, dangerous, and the righteous target of the thinking man’s scorn. Sam Harris’, “Letter To A Christian Nation,” (# 31 on the list) and Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion,” (# 14 and on the list for 24 weeks) don’t just want to appeal to their atheistic brethren, but want to question the sanity of religious belief itself and suggest that we would all be more safe if religion were forcibly banished from the public square.

This view of religion is nothing new to Dawkins who, blasting the intolerance of Creationists in his 1986 book, “The Blind Watchmaker,” claimed that …

It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

With an incredibly ironic inability to see the intolerance of those two ideas existing in parallel, Dawkins denies any respect to those who happen to disagree with him — and instead offers them nothing but contempt. Disgusted by the proselytizing of religious folk, he engages in a little proselytizing of his own when, on the fifth page of his most recent book he claims that, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

For all the bluster these two claim about their own “healthy” and “vigorous” minds as compared to the mental midgets who oppose them, it is a little too convenient that they fail to even mention the significant input to science and philosophy that has been contributed by theists throughout history. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the fact that most of the greatest scientific minds — Newton, Galileo, Pascal, Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler — were all devout men who studied the physical universe because they believed it was ordered and a reflection of the mind of God. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the great philosophers throughout history — Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, C.S. Lewis — who were not only Christian theists, but that began as atheists and reasoned their way to faith. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the fact that the Bible itself challenges us to “test everything” and that the scientific revolution began with Christian scientists who did just that.

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New Atheist Rebuttals (2)

Assertion: Dawkins offers into evidence (The God Delusion, pp.16-17) further proof of his assertion that the faithful are unthinking by quoting a letter written to Albert Einstein by the president of a historical society in New Jersey that “so damningly exposes the weakness of the religious mind, it is worth reading twice:”

Response: I fully agree with Dawkins’ critique of the letter in question! When the writer claims that “everyone knows religion is based on Faith, not knowledge,” then goes on to describe how he never admits his religious doubts for fear of “…disturb[ing] and damag[ing] the life and hopes of some fellow human being…,” I am on Dawkins’ side when he says that the letter “drips with intellectual and moral cowardice”(17). It does. The letter writer admits that he is not pursuing the truth. He is pursuing a self-serving piousness that I also believe is intellectually and morally bankrupt. Although the letter writer may represent a large portion of the faith community, he does not represent those who vehemently deny that religion is based on blind faith and not on knowledge.

He does not represent me.

Though the letter writer rolls over and plays dead regarding the reality of the epistemological basis for faith, I do not. He does not represent those who believe that faith is a trust that can comes from knowledge based on evidence. Once again, Mr. Dawkins is cherry-picking his opponents. Doing so relegates him to the same intellectually and morally vacuous position as those he so condescendingly condemns.